Science and Reason: Thinking in Two’s

What interest would religion have in science and reason?  Unfortunately, that is a question that one might find being asked in our culture, and one wouldn’t have to search too far to find it. One example:  school boards in more than just a few places in recent years have succeeded in making their curriculum a binary offering:  big bang and evolution versus the divine creation of the earth and its inhabitants according to the Bible.

Binary thinking is rampant in our culture.  Binary thinking portrays reality as a matter of two choices, as either-or options.  Binary thinking in terms of morality is simplistic. It casts moral problems and their solutions as a choice between A and B.  Binary thinking has often cast science against religion:  one can either believe science or believe the Bible. Binary thinking in human sexuality is cast as male or female, straight or gay.  Further, human sexuality is often cast as a choice itself, as if people make choices:  I think I’ll be gay, or I think I’ll be straight.  Our political system, practically speaking, is a binary one. One is either a Democrat or a Republican.  One may, in fact, see oneself as holding another political position, but when it comes down to voting day, most options are binary:  Dem or GOP.

Binary thinking has even affected science itself.  We tend to look to science to prove or disprove.  We think that scientific studies draw clean conclusions:  A or B.  We like to cite studies to substantiate our side against their side.

Science is an inquiry–a system of asking questions.  It has created for itself a way of pursuing questions, eliminating dead-end conclusions, and constantly holding the options open for more questions.  In some sense, science doesn’t offer us black and white answers (a binary), but helps answer questions while raising new ones.  Science at its best offers us a way to practice both inquiry and mindfulness: here is what we know now–where does that lead us next?

Bob Patrick

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